Saturday before Great Lent

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Humble, open-hearted, generous Almsgiving
Saturday before Great Lent
28 February, 2009
Romans 14:19-23, 16:25-27 ; Matthew 6:1-13

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord speaks to us today about almsgiving precisely because the character of Lent is about almsgiving as much as it is about abstaining from this or that. Almsgiving means that we are supposed to be caring for the needs of other people (especially for the poor) at this particular time of the year. Indeed, this is something that love calls us to be doing throughout the whole year. However, we should be giving alms particularly now to make sure that we have momentum for the rest of the year in caring for the poor and for those who have needs. Our Lord is very clear about how we are supposed to be going about this. He said that we are supposed to be doing this in secret. We are not supposed to be making a big show of it.

According to the Gospel, our almsgiving in Canada is, in fact, upside down. It could be said that we have gotten used to doing things in a perverted way. If we are going to give to the poor in Canada, what happens ? When we meet some person in the street, cap-in-hand, asking for money, we are taught to say : “No”. We are taught not to give money to this person because this person might drink it, or use it on drugs, or otherwise misuse this money. On the other hand, if we have a tax-deductible receipt to be received because we are giving to some charity or other, that is all right – we get a tax reduction ; we get credit. This is precisely what our Lord is saying that we are not supposed to be doing. For the whole of my life as an Orthodox Christian, I have been hearing over and over and over again from one person or another who lives in a traditional Christian manner, that how we are going about things these days does not fit Christ’s way.

Metropolitan Leonty, of blessed memory, is known always to have had money in his pocket specifically for the purpose of giving money to those who were going to ask for it whenever he was walking on his way somewhere. Father Sergei Glagolev tells stories about how Metropolitan Leonty did this. He had a conversation with Metropolitan Leonty which confirmed for Father Sergei Metropolitan Leonty’s determination that this was how God was directing things. Metropolitan Leonty was not alone, because Archbishop Gregory, of blessed memory, and his uncle, the famous choir director, Nicholas Afonsky, behaved in just the same way. The uncle said to his nephew, Archbishop Gregory : “If you are walking about somewhere and someone is asking you for money, it is not your business to ask him questions about this money. If he asks for money, he needs it, so give him whatever you have to give him. You do not ask him questions. If he is going to misuse it, that is his business. It is between him and the Lord”. Just because he is poor and needy, I cannot assume automatically that he is going to misuse it. If I do that, I make myself the judge-and-jury of this person. This is not in character with what the Lord is speaking about today.

This is not in character with what the Apostle Paul is speaking about, either. He is saying to us today that we have to be very careful and sensitive with each other. Christians have liberty and freedom, especially those who somehow are properly understanding the Lord in their heart. Such people have particular freedom. However, there are many who are still bound by fears one way or another, and who are therefore very sensitive. Their faith is not yet mature in some ways. Therefore, if they see a person eating one thing or another (which one should not eat according to the rules), they can become scandalised, as it were, or even weakened. The Apostle Paul is saying that we are supposed to be sensitive to the frailties of our brothers and sisters so that we do not provoke them in their weaknesses. Instead, we should be holding ourselves back in our liberty. Although the Apostle does not say it explicitly, it is understood that we should be praying for and supporting the person who has such a weakness. We should be interceding for this person, and helping this person by encouragement and other means to overcome the fragility, to overcome the weakness, and ultimately to overcome the fear (because all these things do come from fear).

The Orthodox Christian way is, and always has been, a way of being hidden. It is sort of an awkward thing, because in North America, people are always complaining about the Orthodox Faith : “We cannot find it”. “It is hidden”. “You are deliberately hiding it”. The fact is that Orthodox people are not actually deliberately hiding it, and they are not being irresponsible. For those who are trying to find the Orthodox Faith, the problem is that it is difficult for them to understand what they are encountering. When Orthodox people are seriously trying to follow the words of our Saviour which we heard today – they are not trumpetting themselves and advertising themselves. They are living their Christian lives in a practical manner. This is what is important to remember about the Orthodox way. It is not about : “Blah, blah, blah, and let me tell you about everything”. It is more about : “Come, and see”. It is more about : “I love the Saviour, and I am trying to repent of my sins”. “I am trying to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord”. “I am trying to overcome these weaknesses in my life in which I have not been pleasing to the Lord. I am trying to do this by the Lord’s Grace and by the Lord’s help, and not by my own strength”. This is what makes us hidden, and, as one could say, there is not this “in-your-faceness”.

In general, North Americans seem to expect some sort of a selling-job when we share the Gospel. However, I have learned long ago to keep “sellers” at a distance. What people advertise as being such-and-such often is not the case at all. What you see is often not what you get, and then there is a disappointment. I bought a perfectly good-looking suitcase because the other one was broken. On the first use, the new one was broken. The same thing happened to Bishop Benjamin yesterday : on the first use, a beautiful-looking suitcase broke. What we see, what we pay good money for, and what looks good, is not necessarily so. It is important that you and I understand that because of our weaknesses, our fragility (and because we are still bound by fear), we cannot present ourselves as being all that special. Despite our weaknesses, however, we can do our best in Christ to follow in the footsteps of our Saviour, and, with His help, to live in accordance with the Gospel. He will do this work through us. He will bring people to Himself through us. He, through our love and our service, will act. He will bring people to Himself when He knows the right time has come. This is how things have been, and always are going to be in our Church because it is He who is alive in us.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, as we are about to begin Lent, let us do our best to co-operate with the Lord and His love. Let us begin Lent with the understanding that the main point of Lent is that we need our love for the Saviour to be increased more and more. We need to remember that we cannot do anything good except with His help. He will heal whatever is amiss with us more and more as we offer ourselves to the Lord. Caring for each other, let us ask the Lord to be with us in everything at all times. Let us ask Him to help us, support us, and bring us into His Kingdom so that we may glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.